Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
When you are surrounded by elders and relatives who excel in their chosen careers, chances are that you tend to soak in the atmosphere and prove to yourself that you are no better than them. Naveen Tewari, Founder and CEO, InMobi, emulated his family's academic achievements by focussing on studies during his school and college years. At Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, he realised, “There is more to life than getting good scores in studies,” he says, looking back on his student days, challenging himself and facing failures in entrepreneurship.
The 38-year-old heads the largest independent mobile network globally. It has a reach of 1.56 billion unique users across 190+ countries and is also the largest in China (in iOS).
The journey to the top of his career was not to a plan though. It had moments of self-discovery, besides clarity of objectives that led him to define his career after graduating in mechanical engineering from IIT Kanpur. Before that, like most children are wont to, he gave in to the 'unsaid pressure' of the environment he was raised in.
Tewari comes from a family which has deep connections with IIT, Kanpur. Living among IITians – his grandmother, a mathematician, was the first woman professor across IITs, his father, Dean and Professor at IIT, and some of his uncles were professors there.
Tewari says in his impressionable young years, IIT was the benchmark that he wanted to prove himself worthy of. “Somehow, you don’t even know that something exists beyond it,” he says. Getting into IIT was not his aim but he was sub-consciously aware that is what the family expected of him. “So yes, I gave it my best. When the results were declared, I breathed a sigh of relief as it was one of the first milestones I achieved in life, probably less for myself but more for my parents. My mother was probably the happiest person when I got into IIT as she had put in significant efforts for me to get there.”
After securing a B.Tech degree, Tewari made his first independent choice to not pursue studies further but accept an offer from McKinsey instead. “To my surprise, my academician father supported me.”
It was at McKinsey that his work ethics were established. Tewari realized the importance of doing work of the highest calibre here, he says. But surely IIT was also about giving off one’s best? “IIT is my alma mater and that makes it even more special. I remember becoming comfortable at doing things in the last minute at IIT. To use a cricket analogy, IIT teaches you to be Dhoni who is calm even during the most crucial last over. That makes him think clearly and be more focused!”
Working on an idea
InMobi was an idea that started off one day in summer in 2007 when Tewari called his IIT batch mate and close friend, Abhay Singhal, later Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer. By the end of the day, the duo made up their minds to work together on 'something'. Then the others – Amit Gupta, Co-Founder and President in the North America region, and Mohit Saxena, Co-Founder and CTO on board, were roped in and they moved to Mumbai where the 'something' led to mKhoj, an SMS-based search engine. A year later, the plan was enhanced to mobile advertising and it became InMobi.
InMobi is a global mobile advertising and discovery platform that enables consumers discover new products and services by providing contextual, relevant, and curated recommendations on mobile apps and devices. It gives advertisers an opportunity to engage consumers on mobile to drive discovery, build consumer loyalty and maximize lifetime value, explains Tewari.
The start-up mobilised a total of $15.6 million in three rounds of funding from VC firms -- $500,000 in 2007, $7.1 million in 2008 and $8 million in Series B funding in 2010. It raised about $200 million from Japan’s Softbank Corp in 2011.
“Though InMobi took birth in around 2007-08, it didn’t start off at once. There were series of failures before we got to the idea of mobile advertising. To me, it has never been just about the idea but also about pursuing entrepreneurship with sincerity. Our primary objective has always been to help users discover great products while creating value for brands and customers alike. We still have a long way to go,” says Tewari.
Tewari says one of the reasons for the start-up’s success is that it did not copy what its competitors were doing. “One has to figure out ways of competing by doing things differently. If we do exactly what others are doing, it would not work.”
Learning from heroes
Tewari remains in awe of his father, who he says is his hero. “I saw him work really hard towards achieving his dreams and goals, even on a day-to-day basis. The level of dedication and commitment he exuded is something that I am still in awe of.”
His other hero is Sachin Tendulkar. "In my growing up years, I saw an icon of India being created - Sachin Tendulkar. And it was not just the sheer brilliance of his talent, but also his commitment, sincerity and humility that inspired me,” he says. Incidentally, gully cricket was one of Tewari’s favourite pastimes.
Away from work, Tewari loves pounding the turf in Bangalore on the weekends running and cycling. At a later stage in his life he would like to be more connected to academics as that to him would be 'a far more potent form of giving back to society'.
Tewari eschews the luxuries of the rich and famous. Besides starting up InMobi, he is also well-known for travelling economy class on flights. “I am a middle class person. Humility, family values, hard work and determination are the middle class mindset attributes that move me,” he informs.
What does money mean to him? "It’s a pretty complicated question. I have struggled with it for a while. The needs of my family and myself are not that many. It has led me to figure out the actual need for money which is not to spend on family or self but to efficiently direct it towards the things I want to change in the world. I can be more efficient in utilising the money I have by solving challenges of the society more efficiently than otherwise," says Tewari.